20 YEARS OF THE LANGE 1

The an­niver­sary of the ad­vent of A. Lange & Söhne's cel­e­brates more than a watch; it cel­e­brates a many-faceted mile­stone.

Plaza Watch International - - 20 Years Of The Lange 1 - WO RD S : EL I Z A B E T H DO E R R

The day was Oc­to­ber 24, 1994. The place was Dres­den’s cas­tle. Ger­many’s premier re­tail­ers and a hand­ful of press had gath­ered to wit­ness a his­tor­i­cal event, though the pic­tures would show the large date on the more than life-sized pho­tos of the watches to be Oc­to­ber 25 so as to coin­cide with the pub­li­ca­tion date in the news­pa­pers.

To an out­sider, the first pub­lic ap­pear­ance of the new watches by A. Lange & Söhne may seem to have sent out a sig­nal only within Ger­many, where, in­deed, the re­birth of the coun­try’s premier lux­ury watch­maker was cel­e­brated like nowhere else. De­spite the lo­ca­tion, this event also sent out a global sig­nal: some­thing spe­cial had been cre­ated from lit­eral ru­ins like a phoenix ris­ing from the ashes. And it sig­ni­fied two very hu­man things: the in­domitable spirit of the hu­man be­ing and the en­ter­pris­ing spirit of Sax­ony, home to a tech­ni­cally ad­vanced, in­dus­tri­ous peo­ple that could well have with­ered and died of the many hor­ri­ble set­backs it ex­pe­ri­enced through­out decades of eco­nomic dis­as­ter, war­fare and com­mu­nist rule in the wake of World War II.

It also sig­ni­fied that very, very good horol­ogy could be cre­ated out­side of Switzer­land, even at the very high­est of lev­els. With­out ever be­ing vo­cal­ized, the new it­er­a­tion of A. Lange & Söhne’s goal was to share the tip of the horo­log­i­cal pyra­mid with Patek Philippe. Ini­tial in­vest­ments of 20 mil­lion Ger­man marks (ap­prox. $10 mil­lion in 2003 when the euro was in­tro­duced) were made, in­clud­ing fi­nan­cial support from the state of Sax­ony. Ger­many’s “new,” re­cently re­united east­ern states needed an eco­nomic suc­cess story, and this was deemed a good in­vest­ment. Ad­di­tion­ally there was some pres­sure from within to per­form: the Man­nes­mann/ VDO watch group headed by Gün­ter Blüm­lein – Wal­ter Lange’s business part­ner – also in­cluded In­ter­na­tional Watch Company (IWC) in Schaffhausen and Jaeger-LeCoul­tre in the Val­lée de Joux’s Le Sen­tier. A. Lange & Söhne needed to mea­sure up to th­ese al­ready-flour­ish­ing watch com­pa­nies sooner rather than later. “Blüm­lein was more of a Da Vinci at IWC,” Wal­ter Lange re­cently re­mem­bered. “With IWC he wasn’t go­ing to get to the top of the watch world’s pyra­mid,

though. IWC was a great daily wearer, but not re­ally spe­cial.”

Now with the 20/20 vi­sion of hind­sight, it is easy to say that A. Lange & Söhne couldn’t fail, but the run­away suc­cess that it has be­come was un­ex­pected as Wal­ter Lange re­cently told me again. And look­ing back over the past 20 years of horo­log­i­cal his­tory, there are many renowned spe­cial­ists and ex­perts who would de­clare A. Lange & Söhne’s goal achieved in terms of qual­ity and in­ge­nu­ity.

One of the big­gest rea­sons that A. Lange & Söhne was so suc­cess­ful right from the get-go can well be at­trib­uted to one of the four wrist­watches that ap­peared within the found­ing col­lec­tion of 1994. While the Tour­bil­lon Pour le Mérite, the Sax­o­nia and the Arkade were all in­ter­est­ing – the Pour le Mérite was a true first in terms of its in­cred­i­ble tech­nol­ogy in­clud­ing a chainand-fusée drive added to the tour­bil­lon at a time when tour­bil­lons were still scarce – it was the Lange 1 that was to form the back­bone of the brand’s col­lec­tion and be­come its build­ing block. In 1994 there was cer­tainly no other watch talked about nearly as much as this time­piece.

Why?

The sim­ple an­swer is be­cause it was so dif­fer­ent from ev­ery­thing else on the mar­ket at the time, or be­fore it, and this was ap­par­ent at first glance. But its de­sign also re­mained within the “Lange” codes, which were lux­u­ri­ous and tra­di­tional. Its off-cen­tre vi­su­als dragged the eye in, which hun­grily roamed around the dial try­ing to al­low the brain to un­der­stand why the watch was so ap­peal­ing even to the most con­ser­va­tive watch lover. It even self-con­fi­dently passed the scru­tiny of a sec­ond and third look. The tan­gi­ble ex­cel­lence of the watches proudly bear­ing the name A. Lange & Söhne on the dial and out­fit­ted with man­u­fac­ture move­ments (an ab­so­lute rar­ity in 1994!) not only re­vived a 150-year-old legacy, it en­riched it – and the en­tire horo­log­i­cal world – with the re­birth of a legend and brought it straight into the twenty-first cen­tury. Wal­ter Lange and his con­tem­po­raries were con­fi­dent that found­ing fa­ther Fer­di­nand Adolph Lange would be proud of what they had cre­ated.

The Lange 1’s ap­pear­ance

The out­side ap­pear­ance of the Lange 1 was straight­for­ward in an el­e­gant way, though it could never be called bland or va­pid. Wal­ter Lange re­mem­bers that one of the rules laid down for its de­sign was that none of the dis­plays could over­lap. “I found the out­come amaz­ing,” he re­mem­bers.

Con­trary to a “nor­mal” watch with a cen­tral­ized lay­out, the Lange 1 pos­sesses an off-cen­tre dis­play for hours and min­utes. A sep­a­rate sub­dial placed at about 5 o’clock points out the pass­ing seconds, which nat­u­rally em­pha­sizes the time­piece’s ac­cu­racy.

The large hand for the power re­serve dis­play, the length of which is close to that of the minute hand, is lo­cated right above the sub­sidiary dial for the dis­play of seconds. Ac­cord­ing to Ger­man tra­di­tion, the power re­serve in­di­ca­tion is called the Auf/Ab, or “up and down.” The hand makes its way from “auf ” (“up”) to “ab” (“down”) in about three days’ time. The very large date win­dow dis­play­ing two sep­a­rate nu­mer­als has not only be­come the hall­mark of A. Lange & Söhne’s mod­ern time­pieces, it kicked off an in­dus­try­wide trend for large date dis­plays in 1994. This is yet another way that A. Lange & Söhne has in­flu­enced the in­dus­try as a whole. Said date dis­play, which is mod­elled after the fa­mous Five-Minute Clock found above the stage within the Sem­per opera house in Dres­den, is very con­spic­u­ously po­si­tioned above the power re­serve hand at the 2 o’clock po­si­tion. The date is eas­ily ad­justed by push­ing the but­ton lo­cated at 10 o’clock on the case.

To­day, this award-win­ning watch is avail­able in a great num­ber of vari­a­tions that also in­clude ex­tra func­tions, and even an au­to­matic ver­sion, whose dial dis­plays are po­si­tioned in mir­rored man­ner so as to im­me­di­ately al­low those in the know to rec­og­nize the type of move­ment pow­er­ing it.

Along­side the orig­i­nal case size of 38.5 mm, a smaller ver­sion is also avail­able, es­pe­cially con­ceived for more del­i­cate wrists. This ver­sion is of­ten em­bel­lished with gem-set bezels and mother-of-pearl di­als, mak­ing it quite fem­i­nine. As its 36 mm case is 2.5 mm smaller in di­am­e­ter, there is no room left for a move­ment

“One el­e­ment, though, is not tra­di­tional any­where else to­day: all move­ments by A. Lange & Söhne are as­sem­bled twice be­fore they are en­cased. Once to en­sure per­fect run­ning or­der, and a sec­ond time after all the un­treated Ger­man sil­ver and steel com­po­nents have been fin­ished to per­fec­tion.”

holder ring or even the date but­ton. In­stead, the some­what rarer Kleine Lange 1 con­tains a corrector re­cessed into the case that is ac­ti­vated by us­ing a sty­lus that comes with the time­piece.

Space is not a prob­lem for the Grand Lange 1, which boasts a proud 42 mm case, per­fectly be­fit­ting some mod­ern tastes for larger watches. The sub­di­als were also pro­por­tion­ately in­creased in size as well. The Grand Lange 1 is the only vari­a­tion to in­clude in­ter­est­ing dial ver­sions com­pris­ing con­trast­ing scales and a sportier Lu­mi­nous model fea­tur­ing green­ish lu­mi­nous nu­mer­als and hands against a matte black dial. All se­rial watches by A. Lange & Söhne are only avail­able in pre­cious met­als.

The Lange 1’s move­ment

Con­trary to a “nor­mal” watch with a straight­for­ward lay­out, the Lange 1 pos­sesses an off-cen­tre dis­play for hours and min­utes, which is the re­sult of an off-cen­tred move­ment de­sign that al­lows room for the twin spring bar­rels needed for the time­piece’s three-day power re­serve. In 1994, three days’ worth of power re­serve in a man­u­ally wound move­ment was noth­ing to sneeze at. Nor is it to­day.

In or­der to make the sep­a­rate sub­dial for the seconds pos­si­ble all the way across the dial, an ad­di­tional wheel at­tach­ment was cre­ated for the fourth wheel. One of the most vis­i­ble move­ment de­sign traits of the Lange 1 – its great power re­serve – was achieved by two se­ri­ally op­er­at­ing spring bar­rels. Cal­i­bre L.901.0 ticks at the quasi-vin­tage speed of 21,600 vph (3 Hz).

The only ma­jor change to take place to the clas­sic Lange 1 model in 20 years can be found within the move­ment: the stan­dard Ni­varox hair­spring that Cal­i­bre L.901.0 be­gan life with has mean­while been re­placed by an in-house hair­spring made by the man­u­fac­ture’s own tech­ni­cians.

This most beau­ti­fully fin­ished mech­a­nism of­fers a great deal of Glashütte-style tra­di­tion, be­gin­ning with a pol­ished three-quar­ter plate made of ra­di­ant Ger­man sil­ver and con­tin­u­ing through to screw-mounted gold cha­tons se­cured by ther­mally blued screws, a fin­ish­ing tech­nique called Glashütte rib­bing (sim­i­lar to côtes de Genève), and a hand-en­graved bal­ance cock hold­ing a swan-neck fine adjustment in place that makes each move­ment unique and al­lows for in­di­vid­u­al­ity at client re­quest. Th­ese are the type of el­e­ments that orig­i­nally cre­ated the leg­endary rep­u­ta­tion of Lange’s pocket watches.

One el­e­ment, though, is not tra­di­tional any­where else to­day: all move­ments by A. Lange & Söhne are as­sem­bled twice be­fore they are en­cased. Once to en­sure per­fect run­ning or­der, and a sec­ond time after all the un­treated Ger­man sil­ver and steel com­po­nents have been fin­ished to per­fec­tion.

When Wal­ter Lange said, “mit 66 fängt das Leben an“(“life be­gins at 66”) in an in­ter­view I took with him nearly a decade ago, I was cer­tain he was talk­ing about that day: Oc­to­ber 24, 1994, and the im­mense ef­fort put into the re­con­struc­tion of a new brand based on vin­tage ideals handed down through his fam­ily, which in­cluded prod­uct de­vel­op­ment, pro­duc­tion room out­fit­ting, em­ployee train­ing and so much more. Ev­ery last minute of sweat, blood and tears was prob­a­bly worth­while, for on that par­tic­u­lar day, Ger­many’s tastemak­ers lauded the ef­forts of Wal­ter Lange and Gün­ter Blüm­lein. And put an avalanche into mo­tion that to this day has not ceased.

The Lange 1 con­tin­ues to write chap­ters of watch his­tory, fas­ci­nat­ing new and old horo­log­i­cal en­thu­si­asts alike. The Lange 1 has be­come an ever­green, a stan­dard set for man­u­fac­tur­ers inside and out­side of Ger­many.

“Space is not a prob­lem for the Grand Lange 1, which boasts a proud 42 mm case, per­fectly be­fit­ting some mod­ern tastes for larger watches.”

L e f t : L a n g e 1 T o u r b i ll o n Per­pet­ual Cal­en­dar Right: L ange 1

L e f t: t h e L a n g e 1 L u n a M u n d i , a l i m i t e d e d i t i o n o f 101 p i e c e s de­pict­ing the cor­rect moon phase as seen from the south­ern hemi­sphere (rose gold) and north­ern hemi­sphere ( wh i t e g o l d ) .

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